4 min read

The Cake Is NOT A Lie

The Cake Is NOT A Lie
A masterpiece of a game. All credit to Valve

And I'm back!

A new year begins and what better way to ring it in than by shouting my uninformed opinions into the infinite abyss of the internet?

I'm still rusty though, so I think it's time for a bit of filler in order to get the creative juices flowing.

I'm sure it will escalate from here, like it always does.

Now, who likes cake?

This Was A Triumph

In an incredibly generic statement, stuff happens all the time.

Small stuff, big stuff, good stuff, bad stuff, important stuff, trivial stuff and most importantly, weird stuff.

As a manager, recognising that things have happened is important, because it lets people know that you're paying attention and that what they are doing is meaningful enough that it's worth calling out.

Recognition can be as simple as a private acknowledgement of effort or value and as complicated as organising an entire end-of-year celebration involving a yearly recap of victories and lessons learned along with a collaborative Lego building session using sets that you had delivered to people's houses.

Not that I've helped make that happen or anything.

I don't think I'm good at recognising things consistently. I have a tendency to gloss over victories and focus on areas for improvement, primarily within myself, but I think it extends to those I'm responsible for as well.

It's something I'm working on.

What I am good at though, is recognising and rewarding specific things.

Like work anniversaries.

I'm Making A Note Here, Huge Success

I honestly can't remember why, but one of the things that occurred to me when starting as an Engineering Manager at Atlassian over a year ago was that I should do something nice for people on their anniversaries.

I've never done that sort of thing before in any previous job.

It might have been a spontaneous thing, or it might have been calculated, but it was long enough ago now that the origin has been lost to the mists of time.

What hasn't been lost is the behaviour.

If you're in my team and something happens that is cause for recognition, you're probably going to get a cake delivered to your house.

Obviously I'm not going to deliver a cake for every little thing. That sounds boring, predictable and expensive.

What I focus on is:

Not birthdays though. That feels very formulaic, and I like to subvert expectations.

At the end of the day, when you get a cake delivered to your house, something physical, tangible and tasty, I think it's pretty hard not to feel recognised.

It indicates, in no uncertain terms, that another person has been paying attention to what you're doing and what you're doing is meaningful enough that they put in the effort to make something nice happen.

But what if people don't want cake?

It's Hard To Overstate My Satisfaction

If people don't want cake, they are dead to me. Cake is for the people who are still alive.

But seriously, it's not about the cake. It's about the recognition. Cake is just an easy way to accomplish that. I'm very flexible when it comes to this sort of thing.

More importantly, I've seen real benefits in the dutiful application of cake or cake-adjacent gifts, including overall team happiness and well-being. It's subtle, but it's there.

It helps to drive engagement as well, because people seem more interested in participating in social games when cake is on the line. They fight harder.

I seriously doubt anyone has hung around in a job they are unhappy with just for the promise of cake, but I do think that our onboarding process goes a bit smoother with the promise of cake at the end.

From a personal point of view, I just like doing nice things for people.

Especially in a remote environment.

It can be hard to get moments of connection when you're not sharing the same physical space, and spending some time thinking about what sort of cake someone would like and then organising its delivery is a great way to get exactly that.

Anyway, This Cake Is Great

Normally, this is where I would put a summary, like the end of an old-school Saturday Morning Cartoon specials.

After all, knowing is half the battle.

But I've said what I want to say, so here are some pictures of the cakes I've sent over the last couple of years.

9 new items added to shared album